Pentagon Rebuffs Pelosi Plane Upgrade Request
The Defense Department has denied Speaker Pelosi’s request to have a C-32 at her disposal and laid down some stringent guidelines for the use of a smaller plane, ABC’s Jake Tapper reports.
The source said that Pentagon officials and the Bush administration have instead offered Pelosi use of the same plane made available to former Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.: a C-20, which seats about 12 passengers and five crew members. A C-20 can make the 700-mile flight to Hastert’s Aurora, Ill., district easily but would generally have to stop to refuel to complete the 2,800-mile trip from Washington, D.C. to the San Francisco Bay Area, depending on the headwinds.
Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. J.D. Gordon outlined the rules and restrictions governing Speaker Pelosi’s use of the C-20:
- No more than 10 passengers (C-20’s seat only 12 passengers, not including up to 5 crew members);
- No travel to political events;
- Members of the speaker’s family cannot fly unless the speaker makes a request in writing. The Pelosi family has to reimburse the U.S. Treasury for the cost of a coach ticket per person for the travel, as well as for any food;
- Members of Congress cannot fly on the plane unless their travel has been cleared with the House Committee on Standards (the Ethics Committee);
- Pelosi’s husband can travel for free, but only for official protocol purposes.
While I’m a bit dubious of the taxpayer flying Nancy Pelosi around on an expensive military jet, the restrictions here seem silly. If the determination has been made that the Speaker’s security depends on this accommodation–which strikes me as absurd–then it would appear reasonable to both provide a plane that goes where she needs it to without refueling and to let her bring whomever she desires aboard.
If the C-32 is too lavish and expensive, a plane comparable to the C-20 but with more fuel capacity must surely be available. I’m no expert in aviation, but planes fly from DC to California all the time.
If Pelosi wanted the plane to be put at the disposal of her staff and supporters, as earlier reports suggested, that would be outrageous. But if she’s flying anyway, she should certainly be entitled to bring aboard anyone she wants up to the seating capacity of the plane. Having them reimburse the taxpayers for the cost of coach travel seems silly, too, unless their added weight is actually making that much difference in fuel economy. Paying some sort of fee for food and service, though, is reasonable enough.
Further, from a civil-military relations standpoint, I’m uneasy about Pentagon bureaucrats issuing such dictates to the Speaker of the House. The military is, after all, subordinate to Congress.* And, from a practical standpoint, alienating the Speaker might not be the wisest course. This could come back to haunt them the next time they make an appropriations request.
UPDATE: The fallout has begun:
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., the Pelosi ally who chairs the House military appropriations subcommittee, said he has spoken to Pentagon officials about the need to provide Pelosi with a bigger plane that can fly passengers coast to coast in comfort. But he denied pressuring the Pentagon. “I don’t need to pressure them. I just tell them what they need to do,” Murtha said.
Hat tip on quote to Brad Dayspring, Communications Director, Republican Study Committee. I’d previously glanced at the Chronicle piece but didn’t get down that far.
UPDATE: Pelosi is getting some support from an unlikely source:
The White House on Thursday defended House Speaker Nancy Pelosi against Republican criticism that her desire to fly in an Air Force transport plane is an extravagance. “This is a silly story and I think it’s been unfair to the speaker,” White House spokesman Tony Snow said.
Pelosi isn’t helping herself, though, by attacking the military:
In an interview with Fox News Thursday morning, Pelosi speculated that Department of Defense officials were distorting the story as retribution for her stance against the war and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. “There are probably those in the Department of Defense who are not happy with my criticism of Secretary Rumsfeld, the war in Iraq, other waste, fraud and abuse in the Defense Department, and I guess this is their way of making their voices heard,” she said.
*Granted, Pelosi is not in the chain of command. Congress is, however, charged with oversight responsibility, confirms officer appointments, appropriates military funds, authorizes wars, and so forth.